Based on the social media posts I regularly find on my time feed, now is a time where people are openly making comments that offend their friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers they have never met. As a society, we have become incredibly vocal when it comes to sharing our beliefs, political leanings, spiritual convictions, social identities. Offending others has become a part of our human nature, and many strive to limit this behavior by filtering their words or messages.
Unfortunately, we are unable to completely refrain from offending others. As humans, we make mistakes, say the wrong thing, speak out of turn, share a post, make a comment, etc. There are many changes you can make to watch your words (online and in person), but we all struggle to say the perfect thing at all times. While it’s difficult to refrain from offending others at all, we do have the ability to control the way that we react when others offend us.
I recently came across a post shared by the Three Saints Orthodox Church that discussed the reactions that we have to being offended. A typical response when someone offends us is to tell someone. We tell our significant other, our close friends, our siblings, our parents, our coworkers. We text them all the details, call to go over the entire experience or make a post for the entire world to see.
When we do this, those who are listening begin to side with our position. They hear our complaints and begin to think less of the person who offended us - whether its a stranger or someone we have known for many years. When others begin to listen and think negatively towards the person who has offended us, then they begin to participate in this discussion. This helps us succeed in causing others to sin as they begin gossiping with us. Relationships become divided, and we become even more upset as we re-hash the details over and over again to those closest to us. While this is the most common reaction to being offended, we are knowingly disobeying God. We are called to submit to the Holy Spirit, yet we continue to react according to our flesh, choosing sin over Him.
There is another way to react when we are offended by another person’s words, post, or behavior. We can go to Him directly, without sharing our experience with other people. While our friends and family can offer advice at times, God listens to every word and offers us His understanding, comfort and perspective. With His support, we can feel peace, and this can help us stand strong and resist the urge to tell others about the offense. When we go to Him rather than venting to others, we are honoring Him, which brings greater joy than the temporary relief provided by gossip. We can retrieve our strength from Him rather than sympathy from our loved ones or Facebook followers. This can help us heal from this situation, or it may provide us the opportunity to peacefully confront our offender. We must rely on Him to know the next step when we are offended by others.
When I first stumbled across the post that included all of these ideas, I was immediately convicted. When I am hurt by another person, my first instinct is to tell others about my pain. But as the world gets more complicated with aggressive political discussions, difficult social injustices and vulgar online arguments, the frequency of offense is only going to rise. By looking to Him when we are offended by others, we can control our reactions, focus on honoring Him and set an example for others to follow.
Georgia "Gandy" Osburn
Gandy is a second-year MPSA student in the Bush School of Government and Public Service